There’s a little-known, unofficial holiday on the calendar this month. It’s called “Loving Day,” and celebrations are set to take place over the next two weekends in a number of U.S. cities.
If you’re not familiar with Loving Day, it’s probably not what you think. Loving Day honors Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple from Virginia who challenged that state’s ban on interracial marriage all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Loving Day marks the anniversary of the landmark decision, handed down by the Court on June 12, 1967, which declared such bans unconstitutional.
The celebrations of this civil rights milestone range from large palooza-type gatherings, like the flagship Loving Day event being held in New York City on June 9-10, to the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival in Los Angeles on June 15-17, to small backyard picnics in private homes.
I wonder though, on this 45th anniversary of the historic ruling, if the celebrations will be any different this year given the attention surrounding President Obama’s recent support for same-sex marriage. Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, was born in 1961. His parents’ marriage was legal in Hawaii but still a crime in more than a dozen other states at the time. The Loving v. Virginia decision, six years after his birth, changed that and made interracial marriage legal nationwide.
So as we celebrate the toppling of one barrier, it is worth noting the parallels between the fight for marriage equality then and the battle over marriage equality now. As civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis once wrote in an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, a whopping 90 percent of the American public once disapproved of interracial marriage, saying it was “against the definition of marriage, against God’s law.”
“I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples,” Lewis said. “Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”
As for the Lovings, Richard was killed in a car accident in the 1970s. Mildred died in 2008. But before her death, she issued a statement in support of same-sex marriage:
"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the 'wrong kind of person' for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry."
Something to think about this June...
For more information on Loving Day, visit lovingday.org.
Elliott Lewis is a former television journalist, current law student, author and diversity speaker. (He is not related to Congressman John Lewis.) Visit Elliott's website at www.lewisfreelance.com.